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Let’s declare jihad against Motty

One good thing about England's loss to Croatia: it will be a hell of a lot easier to avoid John Motson, the most irritating man on the box, in the next year.

Patrick West

Patrick West
Columnist

Topics Culture

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I’m glad England didn’t make it to next year’s European Championship finals. This is not out of any sense of voguish self-hatred for my country, or derived from the fact that I find English nationalism quite annoying, and always call myself principally British, not English. Neither does it derive from a sense of schadenfreude regarding my own team, Brentford, who are so phenomenally terrible at the moment, having lost 7-0 at the weekend. I’m just happy England lost to Croatia because it means it will be a hell of a lot easier to avoid John Motson – for a year, at least.

The presence of this man, regarded by many as the voice of football on the box for over 30 years, is one of the great mysteries of British television history. Sure, football commentators are given to hyperbole, and are almost by nature ridiculous. Kenneth-they-think-it’s-all-over-Wolstenholme was overly officious in his delivery; his contemporary rival on ITV, the late Hugh Johns, was infamous for his clipped, staccato patter; David Coleman was the man who inspired Private Eye‘s weekly series of commentating gaffes, ‘Colemanballs’; Chris Kamara insists that every twist and turn on a Saturday afternoon is ‘utterly unbelievable, Jeff’; the shouting Jonathan Pierce should have stuck to Robot Wars; and Andy Gray’s perpetual hysteria is as funny as it is ludicrous.

But at least the aforementioned either informed or entertained us. Motson (or ‘Motty’ as he is even more irritatingly known) just gets on everyone’s nerves. He’s a terrible, repetitive pedant. He is much like Chris Evans, Michael Parkinson or Chris Moyles: one of those people most normal, decent members of the public loathe, but assume everyone else actually likes – characters who have similarly but inexplicably managed to stay in the mainstream media for years.

Just consider some of Motty’s most famous phrases: ‘The World Cup is a truly international event’; ‘It looks like a one-man show here though there are two men involved’; ‘And Seaman, just like a falling oak, manages to change direction’; ‘England versus Germany games have often caused the tea-cups to topple off the table, so those of you at home watching tonight, be careful with the crockery’; ‘It’s delirious! It’s delightful! It’s Denmark!’; ‘That tackle was so hard, it hurt his whole family!’; ‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!’ (reaction to Wimbledon beating Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final). And of course, an obligatory mention has to be made once more of his 1978 quote: ‘For those of you watching in black and white, Tottenham Hotspur are playing in yellow.’

If I was Barry Davies I would take a jihad out on John Motson, the man who has so unfairly eclipsed Davies’ career ever since Motson was first inflicted upon the viewing public in 1971. Davies’ delivery has always been sober, authoritative and commanding, whereas Motson just subjects us to endless, nerdy clichés. And who could have forgotten about the 2002 World Cup from Japan and South Korea, when he never failed to remind us that ‘you’re probably eating your breakfast now’ in every single England game. Sausages, eggs, fried tomatoes, etc. This was all a lie of course, as for each early morning kick-off, every single England fan was actually in their local pub having Carlsberg or Stella for breakfast instead. And you don’t need to be a Scotsman to find that any reference to the 1966 World Cup final makes you want to smash up your television set.

Well, Motty, England haven’t won a major tournament since you became the major pundit on the BBC. So maybe it’s your fault for going on about 1966 all the time.

But should we excoriate Motson as a person for his terrible commentary, or is he a blameless product of a maladjusted society? I do believe it is a bit of both. The reason why I find it hard to support my country over my club is that the English press and populace places so much expectation upon its national team, and goes into paroxysms of anguish and self-hatred when we don’t qualify for something. Defeat is somehow regarded as a metaphor for national failure.

This is why we go on about 1966 all the time, and that is why we regard the subsequent failure to win the World Cup or European Championship as somehow symptomatic of a deficiency in our national character. The 1960s were, after all, the last period of genuine optimism in English society, before we had hyperinflation, Edward Heath, British Leyland, the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher, Yuppies, and so on. But the 1960s also saw our culture of nostalgia come to the fore, as can be most evidenced by the films of that decade: this was an era when all the great Second World War movies were made, in which Zulu and The Italian Job displayed fantasies about an English and British nation that could take on the world. It was no coincidence that by the dreadful 1970s, we had fully become complete nostalgia obsessives: dressing up as 1950s Teddy Boys or watching Happy Days on television.

This is what gets me about John Motson. It’s not that I don’t respect the past, or don’t appreciate the past (I have two history degrees), it’s just that he represents a kind of tragic, pining for ‘the good old days’ that is both irritating and counterproductive. Part of the reason why England have underperformed for the past 41 years is because of the heavy expectation always placed on them. Talk of ‘too many foreign players’ in the Premier League is a red herring; every league in Europe has ‘too many foreign players’. I do sincerely believe that one of the reasons why England have traditionally underperformed is because of people like John Motson bloody always having to refer to Nineteen-Sixty-Six. This year should be banned. And Barry Davies: please come back.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV reviewer. Visit his blog here.

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